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Isabel Rules

Constructing Queenship, Wielding Power

2003
Author:

Barbara F. Weissberger

Isabel Rules

A deconstruction of the strategies used to shape the image of a powerful woman ruler

As queen of Spain, Isabel I of Castile (Isabella the Catholic) laid the foundations for its emergence as the largest empire the West has ever known. This is the first book to examine the formation of the queen’s image, focusing on strategies used to cope with the dissonance created by the combination of her gender and her patriarchal political program.

Barbara Weissberger’s dazzling, elegantly crafted study of the literature of late fifteenth-century Spain is destined to transform our understanding of the history of gender, society, and politics in early modern Iberia. It is indispensable reading for anyone with an interest in cultural production and the economies of power in Early Modern Europe.

E. Michael Gerli, editor of Medieval Iberia: An Encyclopedia

As queen of Spain, Isabel I of Castile (known to history as Isabella the Catholic, 1474–1504) oversaw the creation of Europe’s first nation-state and laid the foundations for its emergence as the largest empire the West has ever known—nearly a century before the better-known and more widely studied Elizabeth I of England.

What we know of this remarkable ruler is typically gleaned from hagiographic texts that negate her power and accept her own propagandistic self-fashioning as legitimate heir, pious princess, devoted wife, and heaven-sent healer of the wounds inflicted on Spain’s body politic by impotent kings, seditious nobles, and such undesirable others as Jews, Muslims, and sodomites. Isabel Rules is the first book to examine the formation of the queen’s public image, focusing on strategies designed to cope with the ideological and cultural dissonance created by the combination of her gender and her profoundly patriarchal political program for unifying and purifying Spain.

Barbara Weissberger identifies two primary and interrelated strategies among the supporters of the queen—often writing in her employ—and her critics. Her loyalists use Marian imagery to portray Isabel as a pious, chaste, and submissive queen consort to her husband Ferdinand, while her opponents imagine the queen as a voracious and lascivious whore whose illicit power threatens the virility of her male subjects and inverts the traditional gender hierarchy. Weissberger applies a materialist feminist perspective to a wide array of texts of the second half of the fifteenth century in order to uncover and study the masculine psychosexual anxiety created by Isabel’s anomalous power. She then demonstrates the persistence of the two sides of the propagandistic construction of the Catholic queen, reviewing modern treatments in Francoist schoolbooks and in the fiction of Juan Goytisolo, Alejo Carpentier, and Salman Rushdie.


Awards

Winner of the International Congress on Medieval Studies’s La Corónica International Book Award

Isabel Rules

Barbara F. Weissberger is associate professor of Spanish at the University of Minnesota.

Isabel Rules

Barbara Weissberger’s dazzling, elegantly crafted study of the literature of late fifteenth-century Spain is destined to transform our understanding of the history of gender, society, and politics in early modern Iberia. It is indispensable reading for anyone with an interest in cultural production and the economies of power in Early Modern Europe.

E. Michael Gerli, editor of Medieval Iberia: An Encyclopedia

This study of gender and sexuality in the cultural production of Isabel the Catholic shows that a powerful woman conjured up monstrous anxieties, drawing defenders and detractors alike into fantasies of sexual excess and transgression.

Jonathan Goldberg, author of Shakespeare’s Hand

This book is an essential contribution to the demythicization of the Middle Ages in general, and to that of Isabel of Spain, in particular. This study confronts canonical and little-studied texts very constructively to build a convincing hypothesis. Weissberger’s social and historical contextualization of her material is detailed and skillfully drawn.

Speculum

Isabel Rules is one of the most important books on late medieval Spanish culture and literature of the past decade, one that hopefully will inspire additional revisionist, feminist studies in the near future. A persuasive, ambitious, and carefully argued book.

Medieval Feminist Forum

Weissberger’s beautifully rendered study remains true to its initial purpose of deconstructing the literary and popular legends surrounding the queen. Weissberger’s book and the collections of essays reviewed herein succeed in challenging the historiography that enabled these legends. We are greatly in debt for bringing us even closer to the historical realities of Isabelline court life and culture.

Clio

With her groundbreaking work Isabel Rules: Constructing Queenship, Wielding Power, Barbara Weissberger has made a significant contribution to our understanding of Spain’s most famous queen, Isabel of Castile (r. 1474-1504), and to the field of late medieval gender studies. The work demonstrates both breadth and depth. Her command of the literary landscape of fifteenth-century Spain is striking. At the same time, she comprehensively analyzes those texts that she singles out for particular attention. Engagingly written, this work deserves a wide readership among scholars of gender studies, Spanish Literature, and women’s history.

Biography

Isabel Rules

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction:Gender and Sovereignty in the Age of Isabel

ONE Anxious Masculinity
TWO Fashioning Isabel’s Sovereignty
THREE The Discourse of Effeminacy in Isabelline Historiography
FOUR The Neo-Gothic Theory and the Queen’s Body
FIVE Luis de Lucena and the Rules of the Game
SIX The Mad Queen

Conclusion:Isabel in the Twentieth Century

Notes
Works Cited

Index